Hunting access on Roan to be restricted this fall | PostIndependent.com

Hunting access on Roan to be restricted this fall

Despite significant interest from local hunters, including support from the Garfield County commissioners, Caerus Oil and Gas LLC has elected to not open recently purchased land on the Roan Plateau to the public for the big-game hunting season.

The land, units 22 and 32 in southern Rio Blanco County north of Rifle, had previously been owned by Encana, which for years allowed hunting to take place on its private property — several thousands of acres known as the "Girls Claims." But when Caerus Oil and Gas acquired the property, that arrangement was no longer expected to continue.

For months, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials, local hunter Robert Winn, along with hundreds of others in support, sought to keep the hunting land open for the public. But Caerus recently decided not to move forward with any proposed resolution.

"Our first responsibility is the safety of our workers, but we recognize that some people will be disappointed that we have restricted public access to our private property," a statement from Caerus sent to the Post Independent said.

"As avid hunters and outdoorsmen ourselves, we understand the importance of this issue and we are working with Colorado Parks & Wildlife to determine how we can develop a limited public access program that meets the needs of everyone affected," the company stated.

While CPW worked with Winn and other local hunting groups to find a solution to keep some of the land open to the public, as private land owners the wildlife officials understood it was Caerus's call to make.

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"Colorado Parks and Wildlife respects the rights of private landowners to use their lands in their own best interests," CPW spokesman Mike Porras told the PI. "We do not have the authority to direct any private landowner to provide access for hunting."

Porras said CPW will continue to work with Caerus, and landowners, to find solutions and increase hunter access where possible.

Winn, who has pushed to see the land open for big-game season this fall, creating a Facebook group last March to build local support, said he was disappointed by the potential loss this now restricted land will mean to the community.

"The group I represent and I were disappointed Caerus couldn't come to the table and meet with us," Winn said.

He said he and CPW officials worked hard to develop a plan that included limited off-road travel, safety zones and no hunting areas around infrastructures, a sign-in and sign-out sheet, and yet Caerus was not interested at this time.

He believes the restriction on public hunting to the area could affect hundreds of local hunters, resulting in negative economic and ecological impacts to the area.

By Wednesday, his Facebook group, Roan Area Access Project, had over 600 members and he said that 220 people responded to a survey sent to the group, 80 percent of whom said they spend significant time on the property.

While Winn hoped to see a different solution on the Girls Claim, he said the bigger problem is the shrinking of public hunting lands throughout the state.

"This property was a small piece of a much larger issue facing Colorado sportsman," he explained. "Colorado needs to do a better job of providing hunting access."

Winn said he's working hard with CPW and other local organizations to propose a pilot program for big game hunting access in the state.

"[Colorado] can't keep selling the same number of hunting licenses with decreasing public hunting lands," he added.

He hopes to put his pilot program proposal in front of the CPW Commission by next May.

"My goal is to see more public access for hunters, and whether Caerus is a part of that next spring, I don't know yet," he added.

azorn@citizentelegram.com